Three visitors! No big deal on some Sundays . . . lost in the crowd at some churches . . . a below-average turnout on many occasions.
Certainly nothing to write home about (or for Forward in Christ).
But this is different. There hadn’t been one single visitor at Cordero de Dios (Lamb of God) Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico for months. In fact, there hadn’t even been a worship service there for almost a year and a half!
When Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico in September 2018, it devastated much of the Island of Enchantment, as it is known. Buildings were destroyed, power grids were damaged, and cell phone towers were knocked down. Tragically, lives were lost. Morale deflated quickly. As the days and weeks and months passed with no electricity, water, Internet, or cell phone service, tensions started to rise, hope began to depart, and a feeling of helplessness set in.
Our brothers and sisters who are members of the three congregations of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico were also affected. While one church building was damaged, another wooden chapel was completely destroyed. Worship services at Cordero de Dios in Humacao stopped. There was no place to gather!
As news of the devastation brought by Maria spread, WELS members responded quickly in love. Generous donations were received for hurricane relief. WELS leaders visited Puerto Rico and assured our fellow believers that we would walk through this together. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided short–term help and a longer term plan of assistance. Retired Pastor Larry Schlomer and his wife Marlene spent several months in Puerto Rico coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts. Volunteers from the States came to lend a hand. Pastors and leaders and church members worked together to rebuild homes and churches—and hope.
On Feb. 10, the newly rebuilt (in concrete) chapel in Humacao was dedicated to God’s glory. Members from the three island congregations gathered together to thank God and celebrate his goodness. During the service, long-time member and seminary student Kelly Alvarez was ordained and installed as pastor of Mi Dios Verdadero (My True God) Lutheran Church in San Juan. The message from God’s Word that day included the reminder that we are a holy temple in the Lord, being built up together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:21,22).
What will happen next in Puerto Rico? Two pastors currently serve in the town of Guayama. One pastor and one student pastor serve in San Juan. A rotation of pastors leads worship in Humacao. There are still jobs to finish, but now plans for gospel ministry can be worked out in order to share the good news with those visitors as well as to reach out to those who likely won’t come on their own.
What can we learn from all this? God in his wisdom allowed Hurricane Maria to pass through Puerto Rico, but the Lord will not abandon his people or his church. In fact, he often creates opportunities out of challenges. Think of those visitors from the neighborhood who saw the work on the church progressing, shared the excitement, and wanted to be part of that special day. People do notice the fruit of our labor, but they need encouragement. Let’s keep on encouraging, inviting, witnessing and pointing other to Jesus.
What can we do now for Puerto Rico? Please pray for those three visitors in Humacao. Pray for our three congregations in Puerto Rico, which still face challenges. Pray that the gospel might be preached and believed in Puerto Rico, to God’s glory.
Because as we look forward to the Last Day, this is our attitude as we live and work for God’s glory and the spread of his kingdom today and tomorrow: The best is yet to come!
Timothy Satorius, WELS liaison to the Puerto Rican church
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Author: Timothy Satorius
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019
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